The Flood

Vellapokkathil by Thakazhi Sivsankara Pillai; translated by Santhosh Alex & Edited By Minu Ittyipe

The temple sits in the highest part of the town. There too, the God is immersed in neck-deep water. Water, water everywhere! All the people of the village have gone searching for the shore. If they had a boat, one person would stay back to guard the house. The temple has three rooms on top, where there are 67 children, 356 people and domestic animals like dog, cat, goat, hen et al. All of them are harmoniously together. No quarreling at all.

Chenaparayan had been standing in water a whole day and a whole night as he did not have a boat. It has been three days since his master had fled for his life to a safer place. In the evening, as the water started to enter the hut, he made a platform with coconut-frond and splints. He sat there expecting the water level to recede in a couple of days. If he abandoned the place someone would surely steal the things there.

Now there’s water up to his knees on the platform. The thatched hut lay two feet underwater. Chennan hollered. Who would answer his call? There was no one nearby. The pregnant woman, four children, a cat and a dog took shelter on the platform, completely reposing their faith in him. It dawned on him that if water pours down from above, within minutes the hut would completely submerge and he and his family would die. The heavy rains had not stopped for the past three days. Chenan removed a small thatched portion of the roof, hauled himself up and looked all around. A boat was moving along the northern side. He shouted to the boatman. With luck, the boatman understood his situation and turned the boat towards the hut. He pulled the children, the woman, the dog and the cat out one by one. By that time the boat had reached the hut.

As the children were getting onto the boat, he heard somebody calling “Chenacha…Hooii!” Madianthara Kunjappan was calling from the roof top. Chenan hurriedly helped his wife onto the boat. The cat too, jumped into the boat in the nick of time. No one remembered the dog. It was roaming around the thatched roof sniffing here and there. The boat moved on and was soon out of sight.

The dog came back to the spot on top of the roof. By then Chenan’s boat was far away. It was gaining speed. The animal began to howl as if in the throes of death. Its whine sounded more like that of a helpless human being. There was none to hear it cry. It ran to the four sides of the thatched roof. It sniffed at whatever it saw and whined again.

A frog, which was sitting comfortably on top of the hut, frightened by these unusual noises jumped across the dog into the water. The dog, startled by the frog, stared at the ripples in the water for a long time. It went sniffing here and there, it must be searching for food. A frog pissed on the dog’s nose and quickly escaped into the water. As a result the dog sneezed. It turned its head around. Then rubbed its face with its hind leg.

It started to rain heavily again. The dog sat bending forward and suffered the heavy downpour. His master had reached Ambalapuzha. The night fell. A massive crocodile floated close to the hut and the frightened dog, with its tail between its legs, barked but the crocodile ignored the dog and seemed not to notice anything.

The dog sat on the roof. It was hungry and thirsty. It looked up at the clouded sky and began whining. Its cry echoed all around. The compassionate God of Vayu took its painful cries further. A few humane people, who stayed back guarding their houses, must have felt pity for the dog. On the shore, the dog’s master must be getting ready for dinner. After dinner, usually the master would give one handful of his dinner to the dog.

The dog howled incessantly for a very long time. Slowly it calmed down. The man guarding the house to the east of the hut was reciting the Ramayana. The dog quietened and looked towards the eastern side, as if listening to the Ramayana very carefully. A little while later, the dog began to howl again till its throat hurt.

In the silence of the dusk, the melodious voice of the person reciting Ramayana echoed over the waters of the flood. The dog listened with its ear pricked to that human voice. The melodious voice wavered in the cold breeze. Except the noise of the breeze and the sound of the waves nothing else could be heard.

The dog lay down on the platform. Its heavy breathing interspersed with its disheartened muttering. A fish leaped in the water. The dog jumped up and started barking. In another place, a frog jumped. The dog became disturbed and growled.

The day dawned. The dog began to whine in a low pitch once again. It was a tune that would melt hearts. Frogs stared at it and, the dog watched them jump and play in the water.

He looked longingly at the bunch of flowing coconut leaves. The whole place was deserted. There was no smoke rising out of the chimneys from any of the houses. The dog attacked the flies on its body and ate them, then with its hind legs it would scratch its chin and chase the flies away.

The sun shined for a little while. Exhausted, it snatched some sleep in that period. The shadow of the plantain leaf swayed in the waters. The dog got up and barked.

The sun dimmed, far away a boat was tossing in the current. The dog got up, wagged its tail and looked at the scene greedily. It muttered. The boat vanished into the coconut groves. It then rained. Bending its hind legs the dog sat down. It looked to its left and right. One could read its helpless state from its eyes.

The rain stopped. A small boat came out from the house on the right side and stopped under the coconut tree. The dog wagged its tail, yawned and muttered. The boatman climbed the coconut tree and plucked tender coconuts. There and then in the boat, the man split open the coconuts and drank the coconut water and then rowed away.

A crow flew from a far off tree and landed on the floating carcass of a buffalo. Chenan’s dog barked with greed. The crow ignored it and tore at the flesh, had its fill and flew off.

A green bird sat on a plantain leaf near the house and started chirping. The dog, now frantic and disturbed, started barking. The bird flew off too. A bunch of ants floated on the water. The dog thought it to be some edible thing and sniffed it. It sneezed and its nose became swollen and red.

In the afternoon, two people came in a small boat. The dog wagged his tail gratefully and said things that sounded like some human language. It readied to board the boat.

“Look, there’s a dog.” One of them said.

The dog as if it understood the man’s compassion towards him, whined in gratitude.

“Let it be there.” The second one said.

It seemed as if the dog had swallowed something, it opened its mouth and made a despairing sound. It prayed. It readied to jump into the water twice.

The boat moved away. The dog moaned again. One of them looked back and said “Oh! It’s not the cry of a boatman. It’s the sound of the dog.”

The dog’s cry whirled in the wind. The sound of the waves could be heard. Nobody looked back. The dog stayed there until the boat was out of sight. It climbed onto the thatched roof as if to bid farewell to the world. Maybe it was telling itself that it would never love man anymore.

It lapped up some water. The poor animal looked at the birds flying overhead. A water snake came swiftly towards it. The dog jumped onto the roof top. The snake slipped through the hole of the roof which Chenan and his family had come out. The dog looked down the hole and began to bark and mutter. Hunger and fear welled within it. Any linguist or alien from Mars would have understood that dog. It spoke a universal language.

The night fell. Heavy rains accompanied by strong winds came down hard. The upper portion of the thatched hut shivered as the waves hit against it. The dog nearly slipped from its post twice. A long head appeared on the water. It was a crocodile. The dog began to howl pitifully. The collective cry of hens came from somewhere close by.

“A dog’s bark can be heard somewhere. Haven’t people moved from here?”

A boat laden with hay, coconuts and bananas came to rest under the plantain tree. The dog stared at them and began to bark. It had its tail raised as if angry and continued to bark. One of them from the boat climbed on to the plantain tree.

“Koove, Looks like the dog may jump!”

The dog leapt forward. The one who climbed the plantain tree tumbled into the water. The other one helped him back into the boat. By then the dog swam back onto the thatched roof of the hut, shook its body and began to bark angrily and loudly.

The thieves had stolen the bananas. “Some are left behind for you,” they told the dog that seemed to bark its throat off. They then filled the boat with hay. Finally, one of them climbed onto the thatched roof. The dog bit him on his leg and tore off a mouthful of flesh. The person cried in pain and jumped back into the boat. The other man in the boat hit the dog’s stomach with the boatman’s pole. The dog whined and its voice slowly became feeble–a whimper. The man, who was bitten by the dog, cried in the boat. The other one, who hit the dog, comforted him, “Keep quiet! Someone may hear.” They rowed away. The dog looked in the direction of the boat and barked loudly after it.

It was near midnight. A big dead cow floated close to the roof. The dog looked at the dead cow from above but did not come down. But as the carcass moved away slowly, the dog yawned, tore at the coconut leaves, wagged its tail, it seemed to know it would soon move out of reach. The dog came down, pulled at the carcass and started to eat to its hearts content.

“Thud!,” somebody had hit the dog. The dog was not to be seen. The cow sank into the water, came up and then drifted away.

The hurricane, the jumping of the frogs and the lapping of the waves were the only noises that could be heard. There was complete silence. The people guarding the houses never heard the dog’s helpless cry any longer. The rotting carcasses flowed past. On a few, the crows sat pecking at the flesh and eating it. No sound could distract the crows. Nobody could stop the thieves from stealing. It was desolate everywhere.

A few minutes later the hut toppled over and sank. Nothing was seen on the calm water’s surface. That loyal animal had guarded its master’s house till its death. The master had abandoned it. But it was for the dog that the hut remained above water until it was caught by the crocodile, it seemed; then the hut slowly sank into the water, until it was completely submerged.

The water started to recede. Chenan swam towards the hut in search of the dog. The dead dog was found under a coconut tree. The waves were beating against it. Chenan turned the dog over with his big toe. He was unsure if it was his dog. One ear was cut, the skin had rotted away and it was completely discolored.

Published with permission from the Copyright holders

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